Letters to the Editor

Denying that Key Largo fire department had a water rescue team is ridiculous

Years ago,in the genteel south, babies were bathed in small porcelain bathtubs no larger than the baby. After bathing, the dirty water was simply thrown out.

The Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department’s and its legal staff’s stance of distancing themselves from Rob Bleser and the dive team is a travesty. Their position is understood, to protect themselves from possible litigation, but it flies in the face of reality. Rob Bleser has been an integral part of the Fire Department as leader of the water recovery team. As a dive instructor, dive shop owner and a fireman with the old department, he and his team have contributed untold volunteer hours, a dive boat and apparatus in least 12 recoveries in recent years under the auspices of the former and the current fire departments.

During the transition to the new department, he specifically asked the chief if everything was in order or did he need to do anything more to continue in his official capacity. He was told no, to continue operating under the same standard operating procedures agreement. Now, since the latest tragic drowning and subsequent recovery by Rob’s team, it has become known that his paperwork has been removed or misplaced. Fortunately, he has copies of all-agreed-upon standard operating procedures that he presented to the chief to ensure that it will be handled properly.

The Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department has ridden his coattails repeatedly, as recently as twice this year on national news, lauding the department’s recovery expertise. When there is a problem of this nature on the water, the U.S. Coast Guard, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have called him. He has the expertise, knowledge and capability and is the go-to guy with these problems. As is protocol, and in this last case, as soon as he was contacted to help, he called Chief Bock to get approval, which he obviously was given, and told to be safe under the auspices of the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department.

The fire department’s annual report of 2015, Page 6, includes reference to the Water Emergency Team. Why was he given the light bar, siren, portable fire pump, radios, pager, bunker gear, building keys, decals and shields if he wasn’t affiliated with the fire department?

As was pointed out at our last district meeting, every county or town in the Rockies has a mountain rescue/recovery team. How can we, as the dive capital of the world, not have a water rescue/recovery team? I say it’s already in place but, like most chains that are broken, it takes a Herculean effort to reinstate or replace a team that has this amount of desire and finite ability.

Unfortunately, the department’s legal stance of never having had a dive team is unproductive, disingenuous and insulting. It’s a shame that this stance of the department and their legal counsel is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Apparently, the problem is insurance and their fear of litigation. It has surfaced tha, although they were thought to be covered, perhaps they haven’t been insured in the past. We are researching to find insurance to protect Rob and his team while contributing their volunteer efforts in the future. We need to find a way to fix the issue, not turn our backs on this vital group of experts.

This is my own opinion, not that of the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department district board.

Bob Thomas, fire commissioner, Key Largo